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News of the Weird

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Chuck Shepherd’s news of the strange and odd.

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Update

California inventor Matt McMullen, who makes the world’s most realistic life-sized female doll, the RealDoll (with exquisite skin texture and facial and body architecture, and which sells for $5,000 to $10,000, depending on customization), is working with engineers experienced in robotics to add animation — but according to a June New York Times report, faces a built-in problem. As a pioneer Japanese robotics developer observed, robots that become too humanlike tend to disgust rather than satisfy. Hence, the more lifelike McMullen makes his RealDolls, the more likely the customer is to be creeped out rather than turned on — perhaps forcing the virtuoso McMullen to leave enough imperfection to reassure the customer that it’s just a doll.

Cultural Diversity

— A low-caste minor girl was beaten up by several higher-caste women in the village of Ganeshpura, India, in June (in retaliation for the girl’s having disrespected a male relative of the women — by allowing her shadow to partially cover the man). The girl’s family managed to get to a police station to file charges, but in some remote villages like Ganeshpura, higher-caste aggressors can intimidate the victims into silence (and in this case, allegedly threatened to kill the girl and members of her family for the shadow-casting).

— Yunessan Spa House in Hakone, Japan, recently began offering guests supposedly soothing, skin-conditioning baths — of ramen noodles (elevating to health status what might be Japan’s real national dish). The pork broth that fills the tub is genuine, but because of health department regulations, only synthetic noodles can be used, and it is not clear that the artificial ramen achieves the same (allegedly) beautifying collagen levels as actual noodles.

Government in Action

— The federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force obtained indictments of 243 people in June in a variety of alleged scams and swindles, and among those arrested was Dr. Noble U. Ezukanma, 56, of Fort Worth, Texas, who once billed the government for working 205 hours in a single day (October 16, 2012). Other indictees were similarly accused of inflating the work they supposedly did for Medicare patients, but Dr. Ezukanma clearly had the most productive day of the bunch.

— Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina, who with her husband earned $2.5 million last year, disclosed that the U.S. tax system required her to file not just a federal return but returns in 17 states, as well, and a June New York Times report chose one state (Michigan) to highlight the Fiorinas’ plight. Ultimately, the Fiorinas determined that they owed Michigan income tax of $40, but they had no way of knowing the exact amount until they had completed 58 pages of documents (to rule out various Michigan attempts to collect more because the tax they owed was more justly payable to other states and could thus be excluded).

— Canada’s naval vessels stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, currently lack supply-ship services, according to a May Canadian Press report. One of the two supply vessels has been decommissioned, and the other, 45 years old, is floating limply because of corrosion, and work on a replacement will not begin until 2017. Consequently, according to the report, the navy has been forced to order repair parts for the ship by advertising for them on eBay.

News You Can Use

A brief Washington Post review in June heralded the new edition of the Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies, covering “different types of ignorance” in a range of subjects by authors from various countries. Among the valuable conclusions in the book is that while “individual ignorance” may be rational in some cases, it is unlikely that “collective ignorance” advances the society. In any event, the author concluded, “The realm of ignorance is so vast that no one volume can fully cover it all.”

Florida!

Because the walkway in front of a Publix supermarket in Fort Lauderdale had seen its share of Girl Scout cookie sellers, Patrick Lanier apparently thought the venue a natural for his product. On June 4, he plopped down a live, 5-foot-long shark he had just captured, and which he hectored shoppers to buy, asking $100 (and occasionally tossing buckets of water on it to keep it shimmering). He had less success than the cookie-peddlers, and in short order loaded it back into his truck, took it to an inlet and released it. However, he did avoid the police; it is illegal to sell fish without a commercial license.

Oh, Dear!

The New York Court of Appeals ruled in June that, when a body is taken for official autopsy and organs are removed (including the brain), the deceased’s family does not necessarily have a right to receive the body with organs re-inserted. “(N)othing in our common law jurisprudence,” the judges wrote, mandates “that the medical examiner do anything more than produce the … body.” The family had demanded the entire body back for a “proper” Catholic burial.

Sounds Like a Joke

In May, police in Anglesey, North Wales, called for a hostage negotiator to help with two suspects (aged 21 and 27) wanted for a series of relatively minor crimes and who were holed up on the roof of a building. However, the building was a one-story community center, and the men (whose feet were dangling over a gutter about 8 feet off the ground) had refused to come down. Even as a crowd gathered to watch, the men managed to hold out for 90 minutes before being talked down.

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